The Example Of Saints In Times Of Trial: A Priest, A Lay Man, And A Pope

by Saints, Spiritual Warfare

FAITH IN TIME OF WAR, Servant of God Emil Kapaun:

Fr. Emil Kapaun’s cause for canonization is proceeding forward, and he is currently recognized by the Church with the title: Servant of God. He was a priest and chaplain in the United States Army during the Second World War and the Korean War. He was eventually captured and held in a Prisoner of War camp in Korea where he was killed by the Communists. He was also posthumously presented the Medal of Honor by President Obama. 

In the worst situations imaginable and in the most dire of circumstances, Fr. Kapaun exuded considerable virtue. He saved wounded soldiers on the battlefield with bullets whizzing over his head. He helped keep frostbitten soldiers going on an over-60 mile march to a prison camp. He taught prisoners in the camp how to witness to the truth and grace of Christianity to the Communist leaders of the camp. He rarely spoke, his friends report. He would do the jobs that the others did not want to. He would carry wounded soldiers. He would clean the undergarments of the sick soldiers who could not do it for themselves, and he would pick lice off of dying soldiers.

Regardless of whether the men were Catholic, Fr. Kapaun would offer prayers, such as prayers from the Mass, the Stations of the Cross, and the Rosary for any who would join him. Of course, in the camp, Fr. Kapaun and the men were not able to celebrate the Mass and therefore were unable to receive our Blessed Lord in the Eucharist. Suffering from pneumonia and a blood clot in his leg, he was moved by the Communists to a “hospital” where he was left to die. He told the men before he was moved: “Don’t worry about me. I’m going where I always wanted to go, and when I get there, I’ll say a prayer for all of you.”

May we all have the tremendous faith in the face of adversity of this great man. Fr. Emil Kapaun, pray for us.

FAITH IN TIME OF PERSECUTION, St. Thomas More:

Born in England, St. Thomas More was a Christian humanist, a lawyer, a family man, and finally the Chancellor of England under King Henry VIII. He was a man of great faith and virtue, having discerned the call to be a monk earlier in his life. He exercised piety, celebrated vigils, fasts, and austere prayers. However, God called him to be a husband and a father.

He was elected to Parliament and married a woman named Jane Colt in 1501 and 1505, respectively. They had four children, but his wife tragically died in 1511. He then married a widow named Alice Middleton. In addition to his four children, he took in a ward, and Alice’s daughter. Then in 1529, he became Lord Chancellor of England, the king’s righthand man. 

Then the problems began. King Henry VIII wanted to receive a declaration of nullity for his marriage to his brother’s widow Catherine of Aragon. He claimed that it was not consummated and therefore invalid. The Pope, however, denied the annulment. St. Thomas More was appalled to then here King Henry (recently titled the Defender of the Faith) go on to deny the legitimate authority of the Pope and eventually declare himself the head of the Church in England. 

King Henry let Thomas More resign from his office in 1532 for health reasons and because of his great esteem and respect for him. However, Thomas More refused to attend the marriage of the king to Anne Boleyn, saying that it would be invalid and against the nature of Christian marriage. The king was unhappy with More. He asked him to swear allegiance to the Act of Succession later in 1534 which said that the king had authority over the Church in England and denied the Pope’s authority. 

Thomas More refused to swear this allegiance, in holding fast to the orthodox Catholic Faith. He refused to hold that King Henry had supremacy over the Church in England. He held fast to the doctrines of the Faith regarding the Supreme Pontiff, the Pope. As a matter of course, he was charged with treason and beheaded in 1535. Right before his execution, he was recorded as saying: “I am the king’s good servant, but God’s first.” 

In times of great strife and persecution against the true Faith, we, like St. Thomas More, must hold fast to our principles and priorities. By all accounts, the pope at the time was not the best man. This did not matter. He was the Vicar of Christ. King Henry had legitimate authority over More but could not compel him to break from what he knew to be morally right.

In times of trial and persecution, may we have detachment from the world, a forgiving heart, and steadfast courage like St. Thomas more. St. Thomas More and St. John Fisher (the only bishop not to sign the Act of Supremacy), pray for us. 

FAITH IN TIME OF PLAGUE, Pope St. Gregory the Great:

Pope St. Gregory the Great was the pope and bishop of Rome in the late 6th Century and early 7th Century. In 1590, there was a great epidemic in Rome known as the Roman Plague of 590. The great plague of Justinian just 50 years earlier had killed 100 million people in Europe. 

Gregory became pope during the plague because Pelagius II had died. Pulling from his experience in the Byzantine court, Pope Gregory the Great was very familiar with the Eastern Christian practice of processions through the streets chanting psalms and asking for God’s forgiveness and deliverance. 

While still a deacon, Gregory organized a procession to take place in the streets with various groups beginning in different places and all meeting eventually at the Basilica of St. Mary Major. These groups consisted of the representative groups of the society: 1) clergy, 2) abbots and monks, 3) abbesses and nuns, 4) men, 5) married women, 6) widows, and 7) children and the poor of Rome. These processions took place at the height of the plague on April 25, 590. The people of Rome saw this plague as a chastisement from God for their sinfulness, which certainly has a venerable tradition in the history of the Church and in the Biblical tradition.

Many people were reported to have collapsed and died from the disease during the processions, but the chanting proceeded un-ebbed. The image of Mary, the Mother of God was retrieved from the basilica and marched through the streets. There is a pious tradition in which St. Michael the Archangel appeared with a flaming sword which he sheathed when the procession reached him. He was seen above Hadrian’s Mausoleum which is now called the Castel Sant’Angelo (which was named for this very story). God’s just wrath was satisfied and the plague supposedly stopped immediately. Prayers of thanksgiving were offered to the great Mother of God for her intercession. 

Of course, God is in control and can cut short any disease or plague. However, he will only do so if it for our spiritual good. This is true of personal illness and miraculous healings. What is required from us is the faith to endure any present sufferings and unite them to the Cross. We are also called to use prudence and what God has allowed us to learn through medicine and scientific investigation to do our part to stop the spread of germs. Gregory the Great, in the 6th Century, did not know what we do now about the nature and spread of viruses or disease. We cannot act imprudently and then presume that God will spare us anyway; this would be putting God to the test.

In times of plague and pestilence, may we not give in to fear and panic, but like Gregory the Great put our faith in God for deliverance, offering our own sincere prayers of repentance. Pope St. Gregory the Great, pray for us.

Photo by Fr. Barry Braum on Unsplash

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